Ultimately, Belgrade’s urban planners understood New Belgrade and the new settlements built on Belgrade’s edge as part of the same social and spatial project, inspired by the Athens Charter. Their goal was to provide Belgrade’s inhabitants with affordable, modern, and hygienic housing, through scientific planning based on a rational distribution of resources and use of modern tech-nologies. However, New Belgrade had an ambiguous quality that differentiated it from these other districts. Originally proclaimed the new center of the city and the federation, it had been relegated in 1957 to a more secondary role the entire city of Belgrade was now deemed to be the capital, and New Belgrade officially lost its special status in the city. At the same time, it housed two of the most important buildings in the federation: the headquarters of the Central Committee of the League of Communists and the Federal Executive Council. Plans for the central axis of New Belgrade reaffirmed its symbolic importance. Moreover, it was assigned a new function: to showcase the quality of life avail-able to workers Yugoslavia’s version of socialist modernity.
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The ambiguous status of this district, labeled both central and noncentral, exceptional and typical, stands in contrast to other postwar building and rebuilding projects in European capitals, where the symbolic function of central districts was more clearly defined. In Warsaw, for example, authorities were determined to reconstruct the old city as closely as possible to the original, while making infrastructural improvements. 87 This was done both to restore an important national symbol and to negate the Germans’ attempt to anni-hilate it. The case of Berlin is somewhat more complex. In East Berlin the only part of the city to retain the status of capital urban planners worked within parameters that were virtually the opposite of those for Belgrade: in-stead of the city expanding and thus shifting its center of gravity, it was now artificially sliced in two. While they would reject the idea of taking West Berlin into consideration when developing their plans, they also eschewed a radical reorientation of the city. The East German planners shifted the center of the city eastward, neglecting the old city center in favor of Friedrichshain, located further east. But they also recycled preexisting features to create a new cen-tral axis specifically, the Brandenburger Gate and Unter den Linden which they would then connect to their new monumental project, the Stalinallee.88 Planners clearly signified, primarily through decorating, which parts of the city played a representative function and were therefore “central” such as the futuristic tower on the Alexanderplatz.89 To my knowledge, aside from Yu-goslavia, no other European state built a large and predominantly residential modernist district in the very heart of its capital.90 The evolution of New Belgrade in the 1960s highlights the importance of economic policy, and more specifically housing policy, for urban planning in socialist Yugoslavia. In the late 1950s, Yugoslavia’s economic policy makers had ceased directing all investment into capital goods and increased spending on consumer goods and put in place mechanisms to provide steady financing for housing construction. Finally, urban planners could begin to bring New Belgrade and similar modernist settlements into being. The new focus on consumption provided a new raison d’etre for New Belgrade, as a showcase for the dramatic improvements in the everyday lives of the common workingman and -woman. The Athens Charter’s promise to provide a better standard of liv-ing to ordinary people acquired a new resonance. With the introduction of market socialism in 1965, consumption went from being a concession to the population to being a tool for economic modern-ization. Policy makers sought to find ways to enable inhabitants to purchase their own apartments and invited firms to compete for clients and, in doing so, to cater to different tastes and budgets. The idea that architects and plan-ners should design homes for specific consumers, first proclaimed in 1950, went from being an ethical imperative to being a good business practice. The new market orientation did not at first seem to pose a problem for the Town Planning Institute’s vision for Belgrade. The opening up of a housing market seemed to create new possibilities for urban planning, for example, the de-velopment of a luxury housing development in block 30. However, the new emphasis on profit and on offering a home for every budget exposed the con-tradictions at the heart of Yugoslav socialism. Ultimately, Belgrade society was still at its core egalitarian and did not have a high tolerance for exaggerated displays of wealth, given the continuing housing shortage. Moreover, the in-troduction of market competition increased the pressures that undermined the Town Planning Institute’s collectivist vision for a humane city, further encouraging investors to disregard urban plans. Abundant green space, play-grounds, variety in building composition these were all regarded as costly and a drain on profitability. Although socialist Yugoslavia had theoretically eliminated the private interests that played such a negative role in Belgrade’s presocialist growth, the 1960s showed that “socially owned” firms could play a similar role. Thus, Belgrade’s planners were in no better a position to realize their plans than was, for example, the city council in Coventry, England, which had to contend with skeptical shop owners and investors who did not want to finance features that eroded their profit margin.91 Although urban planners drew most of their inspiration from Western architectural and town planning discussions, their outlook remained fundamentally rooted in a socialist egal-itarian and collectivist ethos that was increasingly at odds with the Yugoslav state’s economic orientation.
From way down below, however, a challenge to the modernist vision of urban planning began to sprout. Despite the overall betterment of the standard of living, a persistent housing shortage left a portion of the population out in the cold. Adding to the shortage, peasants continued to drift toward Belgrade in the hope of a better life and found employment there, reflecting similar patterns of urbanization across Southern Europe during this period.
Many opted to build their own homes, without permission, on empty lots scattered throughout the city, but especially on its periphery, rather than waiting patiently for their turn to be allocated an apartment in one of the brand-new towers and slabs. This phenomenon was referred to as wild construction or illegal construction at the time. These terms are problematic for a number of reasons. Wild connotes a certain savagery and spontaneity that was supposed to reflect the supposedly uncivilized and instinctive behavior of the builders. Illegal referred to a broad spectrum of law breaking, from failing to apply for a building permit to building on land that belonged to someone else, and some offenders were potentially not even aware that they were breaking the law. Consequently, I propose the term rogue construction in reference to the fact that it evaded the control of the authorities.
In engaging in rogue construction, builders prevented these sites from being developed in the way conceived by planners. This behavior was not new; migrants to Belgrade in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had also built homes in unauthorized settlements on Belgrade’s periphery. Whereas the municipality had turned a blind eye on unplanned construction in the old Yu-goslavia, the socialist municipal government and urban planners had commit-ted to controlling Belgrade’s growth in the 1950 master plan.
In the 1960s, however, the response of the federal and municipal governments to rogue construction was perhaps more damaging to the Town Planning Institute’s plans for Belgrade than was the rogue construction itself. The municipal authorities initially pursued a strategy of cracking down on rogue builders and relocating those who had already moved in into multiple-story apartment buildings. However, recognizing that the construction industry was not meeting the enormous demand, they attempted to co-opt rogue builders into erecting their homes legally on designated parcels. The federal state provided support to this strategy because, in the midst of economic reforms, it wished to encourage individuals to meet their housing needs using their personal savings. As critics had warned, this ill-designed program was still too expensive for rogue builders. However, the idea of living in a house rather than an apartment began to appeal to a much broader segment of the population. Their demand for single-family housing was in turn fed by Yugoslavs who went abroad to work and brought back new aspirations and by the local tradition of dwelling in a family house. Fantasies of home ownership may also have been nurtured by American movies. 1 in Belgrade. They felt that not only was it financially irresponsible, but it encouraged peasants to migrate to the city and continue living in their traditional, primitive conditions. This plan, in their minds, promoted physical and social backwardness. However, they were not able to convince policy makers to re-commit to the Athens Charter-based approach.